Houston Texans running game key to upending the Patriots

NFL Free Agency (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
NFL Free Agency (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) /

The Houston Texans have a daunting challenge ahead in the New England Patriots. It would be a good time to turn to the team’s improved ground attack.

Roughly a year ago at this time, the Houston Texans owned an 8-3 record and we’re in the middle of a winning streak that would eventually reach nine games. When it was all said and done, Bill O’Brien’s team became the sixth example in NFL history of a club overcoming and 0-3 start to reach the playoffs.

The keys to the turnaround were many, led by the talents of quarterback Deshaun Watson. He threw for 4,165 yards, 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also finished second on the team with 551 yards on the ground behind only Lamar Miller (973) and just ahead of running back Alfred Blue (499).

The latter is no longer with the team while the former suffered a season-ending injury in the preseason. All told, O’Brien’s squad finished eighth in the NFL in rushing with a solid 126.3 yards per game.

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This season, the Texans are 7-4 and are coming off a 20-17 Thursday night victory over the rival Indianapolis Colts. Watson’s passing was the catalyst in the three-point win. But it was another solid outing by Houston’s new-look running attack. And this Texans offense may be better suited for a postseason run this year a year ago.

It was a busy few months for the organization this spring and summer and among their acquisitions via trade were running backs Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson. The former was acquired from the Kansas City Chiefs after Miller went down with a knee injury.

These days, they spearhead a Houston ground game that is tied for sixth in the league (entering Week 13) and is managing just over 10 more yards per game (136.9) than a year ago.

Hyde has arguably been the NFL’s most punishing runner this season, totaling 836 yards and four scores on 174 carries. Johnson, more known for his pass-catching prowess with the Cleveland Browns, is second on the club with 349 yards on the ground and has run for more yards than he’s totaled receiving (240).

Watson leads the team with five rushing touchdowns but he’s picking his spots a little more these days, totaling 301 yards on 58 carries.

So what does this all mean when the club hosts the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots on Sunday night? Bill Belichick’s club has certainly proven to be susceptible to the run on more than one occasion this season.

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Controlling the football is always a good idea when facing Tom Brady, who has been up and down this year but could get well against the league’s 25th-ranked pass defense. Hence, the Texans may be wise to emphasize Hyde and Johnson. And Watson’s ability to play-action off a steady running attack could mean big things.